The need to get one’s act together

Ray Zammit must go, sooner rather than later!
Ray Zammit must go, sooner rather than later!

The announcement of a newly appointed chairman to a government authority or board is greeted most of the time with the contempt you would expect from media commentators and the political Opposition.

These political appointees are seen to include some who are high handed and self-conceited, single-minded individuals who cannot but be thought of as poor quality, and inferior to yesterday’s chairpersons.

I however very much doubt that. Some of yesterday’s appointees were good and others were awful. Former Malta Enterprise chairman Alan Camilleri was for example well known for being the wrong choice.

In the past we had a similar posse of political appointees as advisors, legal officers, consultants and chairmen of these agencies.

The John C. Grechs and the Lawrence Zammits were predictable names that would resurface over and over again. 

Then you had the wide circle of PN-leaning lawyers, now replaced by the set of PL-leaning lawyers, and today instead of one particular audit company you have a totally different one.

Even the judges and magistrates were from one political stable.

That is how this country has worked.

In 2013, fighting for the Prime Minister’s job, Muscat promised to change all that.

But I do not believe he has done so. Indeed, in many instances he repeated the same mistakes of his predecessors, though he has craftily tried to install, or retain, some well-known Nationalists, in key positions.

Which however does not really stop the PN from hitting out.

Clyde Puli, for example, has painted the public broadcaster PBS as the worst thing that ever happened to this country. Which he can do with a straight face – if he conveniently forgets what the PBS news sounded like before 2013 and how the current affairs programmes by Lou Bondi at the time served one political party and not another. This is borne out starkly by the PN’s own inquest into the reasons for the sharp drubbing the electorate gave them at the polls.

Busuttil cannot now, all of a sudden, appear like a fungus on a mouldy patch to declare that he is the man of the moment, and expect to be taken seriously.

Fortunately, one advantage of getting older is that it helps me to remember the numerous political appointments between 1987 and 2013. They were manifestly based on one important premise, which is the innate and enriching ability to lick ass, very much as what has happened since 1964.

Nothing has really changed.

Most of the chairmen were not fit for purpose and, what was worse, some were blatantly so one-sided that it could make one vomit for days on end.

Many did not have the experience needed, and some were not even remotely interested in the enterprise they were entrusted with. Others were incompetent, simply bloody fools.

Over the last 50 years, political parties have appointed their own faithful. It is the name of the game.

We have an American system without the checks and balances of the US political setup.

I recall the days in 1987 (when, then like now, we imagined things would change so dramatically and we were so angry they did not). I recall the most barefaced appointments being those at the Freeport in the following months – they were all young graduates who had one thing in common, they were all members of the SDM and none of them was older than 25.

The same practice is repeating itself today. But no matter how much you read of this, the Opposition is really in no position to complain or throw its weight around on such a subject.

More so, and I have no doubt that once the electorate chooses to finally place Simon Busuttil in Castille, should he remain party leader, it will become unmistakably clear that he has no real blueprint about how to address the issue of not appointing political lackeys.

Or better still, about how he is going to look the other way when he is mercilessly hounded by his own people or switchers to get appointed.

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I cannot understand why Owen Bonnici feels the need to defend Ray Zammit, the newly appointed head of LESA, the brand new agency that coordinates the warden enforcement programme.

It is more obvious than not that Ray Zammit, the former Police Commissioner, does not have the self-respect to stand down.

He is the kind who cannot admit to doing wrong.

The kind of guys who are so damn smug and arrogant that they cannot see and understand that their position is untenable.

The first time I heard of Ray Zammit was from Silvio Scerri ‘tan-Nexos’, then Manwel Mallia’s chief of staff.  He described him as the right man for the job.

I should have known!

Owen Bonnici, on the other hand, should never have offered the position to Ray Zammit, who obviously does not want to leave it, as was the case when he was Commissioner of Police.

The revelations about his business links with Gaffarena, and his sons’ involvement with Gaffarena (which he surely knew about when he was Commissioner of Police) and the latest lands department give away, involving himself, are good enough reasons not to offer the man any official positions – he has made himself untouchable.

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There is a lot of talk about ODZ, but most people, and I have to address Michael Briguglio in particular, have to realise that the real problem is not only ODZ but planning in development zones in general.

I recall that when Briguglio nose-dived into protesting against the Hilton lagoon back in the early nineties, the spotlights simply honed in on the development there.

As they protested in the murky waters of the Hilton Lagoon, Malta and Gozo were being plundered through unrelenting urban sprawl.

Malta’s chaotic sprawl spiralled out of control in the early nineties. Sliema was bastardised, Naxxar and Mosta became one and Attard, Lija, Balzan, and Marsascala became new middle class suburbs. Tigne and Manoel Island were given away together with large tracts of coastline for hotel development.

New schools were erected on virgin land in Malta and Gozo – what has happened 

to the buildings that were replaced, have they been left to rot, to join the other thousands of vacant buildings? – and new roads constructed in previously agricultural land, which opened up new housing projects.  Quarries and utility projects were carried out and no one, not even the most extreme opponents, could tell what was happening.

When the biggest public project, Mater Dei, was built in the largest segment of ODZ land ever, there was not one squeak of disapproval.

Today, no one is realising that the zones which are open to development are being eaten away by greedy developers and developed in the wrong way. The chiefs at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority are changing the ground rules and making developers happier – allowing high-rise and destroying the little that is left of our village centres. Urban conservation zones are being bastardised and the attitude of the MEPA chiefs is to accommodate developers and not to impede their work. It does not matter, to MEPA, that everyone else is unhappy.

MEPA has actively realigned its policy to that of the early nineties. One that actually promotes a policy for screwing this country more than it is already screwed.

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And as I write I cannot help but think that the Green NGOs should really get their act together. It is very easy to stand up and speak your mind, but some NGOs would do best to start looking for fresh new leaders and joining forces literally. I do not see why there should be an NGO for every issue.

Some NGOs are one-man organisations without any structure, any committee to elect, no democracy and no membership base. Those that are, are represented by individuals who do not even have the credentials to drive a point home.

And some NGOs need to start thinking in terms of pooling resources and setting common strategies.  

There are too many organisations but too few people to run them.

Even the Front Kontra l-ODZ should acknowledge this. The fact that everyone is working under a different name is not helping at all.

The longer this fragile green network persists, the more difficult it will be to change the mentality that prevails in the political class.